Who's who in the new Egypt? A mapping of prominent actors of change

Report - External Series

Høigilt, Jacob (2011) Who's who in the new Egypt? A mapping of prominent actors of change, NOREF Report. Oslo: NOREF.

Jubilant celebrations followed the announcement of Hosni Mubarak’s resignation as president of Egypt. The army has taken control of government, promising fundamental judicial and political reforms, but considering that the army has been the guarantor of the Egyptian regime since 1952, the future is far from certain. In the current dramatic situation, the question arises: who are the actors that have succeeded in bringing down Mubarak's regime, what are their aims, and what support base do they have? This paper provides an overview and assessment of the four groups that have emerged as major political players, and the role they may play in Egypt's ongoing political transition: the many-stranded but disciplined youth movement, the Council of Wise Men (lajnat al-hukama'), the National Association for Change, and the Muslim Brothers. The paper also considers the independent Egyptian judges who occupy a crucial position in the current situation.

The picture that emerges is one in which all the opposition actors that have succeeded in assuming a public role gravitate towards the youth movement. Young Egyptians, for all their social, political and cultural differences, have managed to seize the political initiative, not only from the authoritarian state, but from the entire older generation of politicians in Egypt. It is still uncertain how far they can push their agenda, and for how long they will appear as one united force. All parties with a stake in what happens in Egypt would do well to follow closely this still evolving political group, its means of communication and mobilization, and the figures that have emerged as its informal leaders. The other independent political actor that should be followed closely in the days ahead is the judiciary. For the reform movement's continued success, much will depend on how aggressively the judges confront a military regime that is probably reluctant to bring about radical change.
In conclusion, the formal Egyptian interlocutor of the US and European governments is still a government dominated by the military. However, the radical change towards a more open society has taken place outside of government, where existing forces have shown remarkable pragmatism and constraint (the Muslim Brothers), and new groups have crystallized (youth movements and independent intellectuals willing to take on a political role). Having actively supported and recognized an authoritarian regime for 30 years, US and European politicians now have a unique opportunity to redirect their focus and engage more seriously with real forces of change, even if they do not occupy the formal positions of power.

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Jacob Høigilt

Jacob Høigilt

Senior Researcher

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